Extending & Fixing Your Bike Chain

Extending the life of your chain and cogs is important whether you are using the bike in the city or on a long trip. But on a long trip it helps to know what spares to carry and to know the points where you might want to rotate, replace or fix your bike chain.

Bike Chain Stretch

People refer to bike chain stretch but chains don’t actually stretch. The metal is not elongating under tension. Chains do lengthen but this is the result of grit wearing the hinge pins and sleeves of the chain links. This grit initially adheres to the outside of the chain but does little harm there. 

It is when the grit reaches the inside of the chain that wearing occurs. Oiling a dirty chain virtually guarantees that wear will increase.

It is the elongated or loose bike chain that cuts into the teeth on cogs and causes them to wear to the point where the chain eventually results in the bike chain slipping. Then all the cogs and the chain need to be replaced. 

So it is wise to thoroughly wash a chain with solvents occasionally. Oil it lightly only when it is clean. If the chain looks wet you have put too much on. Just wipe it off. You will usually not need to remove the bike chain.

Keep Your Chain Dry

If you have been riding in rain the bike chain will dry more rapidly so have some lube handy. Overall though, keep the chain a little on the dry side to avoid needing to keep tightening the chain as often.

Cog Tooth Wear

For long trips in the ‘old’ world, where getting a good quality 3/32” bike chain is generally impossible, we want chains that last as long as possible. This is similar to the interest in tyre and rim longevity. 

In the case of chains, their wearing out (manifested in less chain tension) cuts into the sides of teeth on the cogs. These cogs are even harder to get and changing rear cogs requires special tools. On trips over 8,000km it is common to carry a spare middle front chainwheel and a spare chain.

Approaches to Chain Wear

There are different approaches to chain wear on derailleur bikes that work. Which system is right for you will depend on the effort you are willing to go to and which tools you plan to have on hand for fixing bike chains.


Regularly replace the chain before its elongation cuts into the teeth of the cogs. With the quality of chain on Vivente bikes this would be 3,000km – 4,000km.


Carry a spare chain on a long trip starting with a new one and swapping them at 4,000 km, recording it on the bag the chain is in so you know where you are up to and then swapping back to the first chain after the next 4,000, etc.


Ride one good chain, keeping it clean, through to the point where it starts to slip and then replace all the cogs and the chain. On Vivente bikes that is at least 7,000km and the lighter you are the further out that is.